Black Friday 2021: Get these three things right, and win overseas customers

By Luis Barros, Operations Director, Asendia UK. 

With cross-border now so important to fashion, homewares, beauty and electronics retailers, optimising the Black Friday sales bonanza has become more complicated. But getting it right can be a game changer for ambitious brands, writes Luis Barros, Operations Director, Asendia UK

Last year, Black Friday powered a 38% surge in sales for UK online retailers on the actual day, 27th November, IMRG figures show. It proved to be a bumper event for home and garden, as well as health and beauty, fashion and electronics with shuttered stores meaning more people than ever jumped online to bag their bargains. Shops are likely to be fully open this ‘Black November’, as it’s become known, allowing omnichannel retailers to operate click and collect once again, and enjoy all the footfall-driving benefits that entails.

Further Black Friday mileage can be gained by looking overseas. UK retailers experienced a 42% YoY like-for-like surge in international cross-border online sales last November, the Cross-Border Index from IMRG[1] revealed. This was in the days before a Brexit deal was agreed, so similar growth may be challenging this year. Nevertheless, ambitious retailers will want their Black Friday and Cyber Monday campaigns to catch the attention of international shoppers, if they are to leverage what can be very lucrative shopping events. The joy of e-commerce is that the world is your oyster, if you have the systems and supply chain network in place to cope with sudden surges in demand.

Black Friday is everywhere

Americans famously love Black Friday as, of course, it’s a home-grown tradition. Brazilians and Mexicans are now massively on board too, and Europeans are seasoned Black Friday bargain hunters. We know from internal Asendia data that it’s increasingly popular in Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, The Netherlands and Israel. In France last year, large retailers including Amazon and Carrefour were encouraged by the French government to delay the launch[2] of Black Friday sales until December 4th so that the long-awaited re-opening of smaller stores on December 1st wasn’t overshadowed.

All these nations recognise the impact deep discounts in the run-up to Christmas can have on consumer behaviour. Little wonder savvy retailers are spreading their nets far and wide for the biggest Black Friday hauls. Be assured that while retailers are preparing to offer some of their best discounts of the year, their supply chain partners are pulling out all the stops to predict when order volumes will hit, and to be ready for unexpected logistical challenges.

Here are three top tips for a successful and stress-free cross-border Black Friday.

Map demand around key dates

E-commerce volumes are massively stimulated around the world in November. This year we have Singles’ Day driving activity in Asia on 11th November; Thanksgiving in the USA falls on Thursday 25th November; Black Friday worldwide is 26th November, followed by Cyber Monday on 29th. Mapping your marketing, inventory and fulfilment around these dates, taking into account additional factors such as localised pay days, the weather and economic indicators will be central to success.

It’s also important to analyse demand trends across recent years, and factor in current issues such as delays at international ports and Brexit paperwork. This year it will be vital to allow extra time if your company is not fully set up for IOSS VAT arrangements[3] in the countries you’re selling into.

The length of a Black Friday campaign is key, and it’s worth retailers spending time collaborating closely with their parcel and shipping partners so that everyone knows exactly when deals go live, and where. It might be prudent to extend the Black Friday sales period, or at least start it earlier in some regions, to maximise the opportunity, if you have the stock and fulfilment capability to support this.

Pre-empt possible shipping blockages and backlogs

Disasters are all too common when e-commerce demand rockets and supply chains and fulfilment centres can’t cope. So, it’s important to work with your logistics partners to plan as much agility and flexibility into the Black Friday event as you can. This should involve your 3PLs mapping out ‘what if’ scenarios, planning in alternative routes if problems are expected in busy shipping channels, and resourcing adequately in warehouses and DCs.

To be ready for the challenge of transport constraints, make sure forecasts are as accurate as possible, and made visible to your 3PLs early on so they can plan resources and transport allocations, allowing for flexibility. At the height of the COVID/Brexit disruption of spring 2020 Asendia UK was able to organise alternative shipping methods, for example short-notice airplane chartering, when unexpected challenges like flight cancellations and route closures disrupted the market.

The best e-commerce fulfilment partners will be able to deploy more staff in the case of surging demand, and utilise their own network of facilities to cope with sudden order spikes. At Asendia we work closely with our own shipping agencies, our internal HR department and planning teams to ensure we can comfortably meet demand.

Be ready to switch off your marketing campaign if it’s too successful

A storming Black Friday often boils down to all the relevant teams having successfully balanced marketing campaigns with operations. At Asendia, we’ve worked with some of the fastest-growing e-commerce brands in the UK in recent years, and have built resilience and trouble-shooting capability into our fulfilment offer. Clear communication across marketing, supply chain ops and fulfilment partners must be factored in. Everyone must be on the same page, and ready to make decisions rapidly.

A big learning is this: If your marketing campaign catches fire and demand leaps higher than anticipated, there are immediately practical issues to deal with. For example, if a buy one, get one free lingerie deal takes off, a fashion retailer might see six times the forecast demand for that product. It’s been a successful campaign, but operationally, is a potential customer service disaster waiting to happen. Having the right stock in the right place is one challenge. Equally your 3PL must have enough benches and bodies in their fulfilment centre to pick and pack at the pace required to honour orders.

There should be customer support in place to smooth the communication process if delays can’t be avoided. Perhaps most importantly, retailers must decide when to turn off, or turn down, their marketing, rather than risk damaging brand reputation if order fulfilment goes awry.

Here’s a final thought. There’s been a trend since 2017 for UK retailers to begin discounting one, two or even three weeks out from Black Friday, IMRG data confirms. This suggests Black Friday 2021 will be similarly stretched. Which is all the more reason for retailers with their eyes on the international prize to get planning with their fulfilment and shipping partners as early as possible. All the indicators suggest it will be well worth the effort.





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